About this record
This is Governor-General Sir John Kerr's official written statement describing the events leading to the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. It is a four-page typed document marked with the Governor-General's stamp and is titled 'Statement by the Governor-General'. It was written at Government House, Canberra, on 11 November 1975 and was released to the public on that day.
- This document sets out Sir John Kerr's view of events leading up to the dismissal of Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam and his replacement by Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser. In this document, Kerr argues that—under the Constitution and with his authority as Governor-General—he was legally entitled and duty-bound to withdraw the prime minister's commission and to install a caretaker prime minister.
- This document, written on the day Kerr withdrew Whitlam's commission as prime minister, outlines his concern that Whitlam's Labor government was unable to ensure the supply of money to allow the government to function normally. A deadlock had developed between the Labor-led House of Representatives and the Senate, which was controlled by the Liberal–Country Party Coalition. Fraser’s Senate majority refused to pass the Labor Government’s Budget bills, claiming that the Whitlam government was ‘unfit to lead’ because (among other issues), it was trying to raise foreign loans.
- There was intense interest in this crisis, which had continued for nearly four weeks and threatened to paralyse government. The dismissal and the events leading up to it remain one of the most dramatic and controversial events in Australian political history.
- Dismissing a prime minister who held the majority in the House of Representatives was unprecedented—and this official statement suggests that Kerr felt a public account was necessary to explain his actions. The double dissolution was also one of only six to ever be called in Australia. In Kerr's statement he argues that a double dissolution needed to take place as early as possible, to provide a democratic resolution to events.
- The subsequent federal election was held on 13 December 1975. Despite initial public anger over Kerr's decision, the Coalition's campaign focused on Labor's poor economic management and resulted in the Coalition winning an unprecedented 55-seat majority in the House of Representatives.
- Kerr's statement claims that—based on his authority as the representative of the Monarch in Australia—he had a constitutional right to withdraw the prime minister's commission. However, Whitlam and the Labor Party condemned his actions as illegal and unconstitutional, and public perceptions of the events have varied. Kerr resigned as Governor-General in 1977, but his reputation had suffered and he had difficulty finding other positions in Australia.
Learning resource text © Education Services Australia Limited and the National Archives of Australia 2010.